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Departmental Honors

You are eligible for Departmental Honors if you meet the following criteria.

Required GPA

  • A GPA of at least 3.5 if you are part of the four-year University Honors curriculum
  • A GPA of at least 3.2 if you are not part of the four-year University Honors curriculum
    • Film Studies requires a GPA of 3.5
    • Creative Writing requires a GPA of 3.75
    • Nursing requires a GPA of 3.5

Credit Hours

  • 74 credit hours total (usually at least 5 semesters as a college student)
    • 30 of those credit hours must have been completed at UNCW for at least 2 semesters
  • You must usually be a second-semester junior to begin your honors project, or a transfer/early college student who has spent at least 2 semesters at UNCW
  • Most students complete their honors projects during the two semesters of their senior year. Some choose to start as spring-semester juniors

Faculty Advisor

A faculty member in the same department you complete your honors project must agree to be your supervisor for the project. Sometimes this faculty member is referred to as your faculty mentor or faculty advisor. They will help you choose the direction and scope of your project and will periodically assess your progress, edit your paper and help facilitate your thesis defense.

A faculty member who is not in your major department can supervise your honors project. This means you would be completing an interdisciplinary honors project.

Approval From Your Department Chair

The chair of your major department does not need to write you a recommendation. Instead they sign the first form approving your application to complete Departmental Honors.

The project is made up of six (6) credit hours. There are two timelines for completing an honors project:

  • Two semesters each containing 3 credit hours
  • Three semesters each containing 2 credit hours

As long as you have 74 credit hours and at least 30 of them have been at UNCW, you can begin your honors project.

You Can Begin Your Honors Project as a Spring-Semester Junior

This is helpful for students who want to complete their projects over the course of 3 semesters. You can also opt to complete it in 2 semesters, finishing in your second-to-last semester at UNCW. This works well for students who know they have a very rigorous final semester. For example, education majors who student-teach in their final semester or students who just want to be done early.

Students may also choose to complete part of their thesis projects during the summer, although the fall and spring semesters are most common.

The timeline looks like this:

In the Semester Before You Plan to Begin Your Project

  • Find a faculty mentor
  • Think about the general topic you would like to explore
  • You don't have to know exactly what you want to do yet

Before the End of Drop/Add in the Semester You Plan to Begin Your Project

  • Choose the members of your examining committee
  • Complete the Departmental Honors Application form
  • This should have more details on your project, but you are allowed to change it later if you need to

At the End of the First Semester of Your Project

Complete the Departmental Honors Update form, which provides an update on the direction of your project and informs us if anything has changed. It also serves as a check-in that work is proceeding as planned.

The first semester of your honors project is usually the "research" semester, in which you read the appropriate literature or conduct the experiment.

In the Final (2ND or 3RD) Semester of Your Project

The final semester is the "writing" semester. You summarize your project in a paper and prepare to give an oral presentation of your project.

Before Reading Day in the Final Semester of Your Project

Finish your paper, set a date, and present your findings/project to your committee.

All of the following must be completed before the end of drop/add in the semester that you will begin your honors project:

Complete the Departmental Honors Application

See Resources for most recent form.

You and your faculty advisor will select an examination committee as a part of your form. This committee has at least 2 other faculty members, one within your department and one outside the department. You should contact committee members before submitting the form to make sure they agree to serve, but they do not need to sign the form.

Honors College Staff Will Process the Form

  • You and your advisor will be notified about your eligibility and enrollment 
  • Your advisor may appeal to the Honors Faculty Advisory Council if you are determined ineligible
  • We will contact the Registrar to enroll you in honors work after approved. Registration for 499 is never done through SeaNet

Later on, to continue your honors project, you will complete the following.

  • You and your advisor will complete the Departmental Honors Update form and secure committee approval during the first semester
    • This must be completed by reading day of the initial semester
    • Turning in the Departmental Honors Update form is required for students to continue the honors project
  • There may need to be changes to the project as originally proposed. No additional paperwork needs to be completed as long as the faculty member and committee are in agreement about minor changes
  • The Registrar automatically enrolls you in subsequent 499 semester(s) after the first semester

The oral defense is the culminating point of the honors project and may be open to the public. The only people required to be there are the student and the committee.

  • You'll present your project
  • Take questions from the audience
  • Take questions from your committee alone after the public audience (if any) has left the room
  • You will leave the room as your committee deliberates on a pass/fail

The defense is not meant to be unduly difficult. It's not an opportunity for faculty members to attack your work or try to find flaws in it. Your paper will have gone through rounds of edits that weed out any large issues before you present.

The defense is a chance for you to orally present your work and for the committee and public to ask thought-provoking questions. The honors defense is your chance to tell the world about a topic that fascinates you if you're appropriately prepared.

It is the student's responsibility to set the date and location of the defense. You will need to settle on a date, time and location that works for you, your faculty supervisor and committee members. The faculty supervisor will help you schedule a room for the defense. You must inform the Honors College of your defense date and location through the Oral Defense Time Survey.

Your defense must take place on or before Reading Day in the final semester of your honors project. It is a good idea to get the Honors College member to approve your title page formatting ahead of time so you can print the title page and bring it to the defense for signatures.

The defense typically has three parts.


The student presents an overview of the project, either to a public audience or to the faculty committee alone. Many departments schedule an open defense so that other students and faculty can hear a general overview of the project and then ask general questions about the project.

This allows:

  • the student to hone their formal presentation skills,
  • the student to develop a formal multimedia presentation if appropriate,
  • other students the opportunity to see an honors defense,
  • faculty to become better acquainted with each other’s scholarly interests, and
  • the department to ensure consistent standards for departmental honors projects.


The committee meets alone with the student and discusses the project and its implications to ensure that the student can defend his or her work at a junior colleague level. While this is meant to be a challenging experience for the student, if the student is well prepared, it will be an enjoyable intellectual experience.


The student is asked to leave the room so the faculty can deliberate about the student’s demonstrated grasp of the project after the committee has asked all questions.

The signatures on the title page itself indicate that the student passed the oral defense successfully. In some cases, there may be extensive revisions to the paper and the faculty supervisor and committee may wait to sign the title page after those changes are complete.

The following people are involved in a Departmental Honors project.

The Student

  • Know and meet all appropriate deadlines
  • Approach faculty supervisor about the departmental honors project
  • Shepherd all paperwork through the process
  • Perform the research or creative scholarship (with assistance)
  • Write the honors paper
  • Become familiar with the responsibilities of other project members and providing necessary information to them (defense date, paper to committee, notifications to faculty liaison, etc.)
  • Submit the final paper and reflection

The Faculty Supervisor

  • Help the student develop a project
  • Arrange regular meetings to discuss the student’s progress
  • Provide feedback throughout the semesters, using the Departmental Honors Update form and other measures
  • Help set the date and location of the defense
  • Determine the grade (while considering the advice of committee members)
  • Notify Honors if committee members change

The Examining Committee/Faculty Committee

  • Meet at least once with the student in the initial semester
  • Read the honors paper
  • Make constructive comments on the paper
  • Provide a challenging and constructive experience at the oral examination

The student and faculty supervisor select an examination committee together. At least three faculty members are required:

  • The faculty supervisor
  • One other faculty member from the student’s major department
  • One faculty member from a discipline other than the major

Committee members should be members of the UNCW Faculty as defined in the Faculty Handbook. Lecturers may serve as committee members with departmental approval. Individuals with sufficient credentials who are not UNCW faculty may serve on a committee on a case-by-case basis. For example, in such cases where a student performs research onsite or in collaboration with another institution.

There must always be at least three faculty on the committee including the faculty supervisor. If there are four members, the fourth member may be from the major area, from outside the major area, tenured/tenure-track, or non-tenure-track.

The Faculty Representative (Liaison) of the Honors Faculty Advisory Council

The Honors College will provide as much support as possible to students and faculty committees conducting and supervising thesis projects.

The Honors College will assign a faculty liaison to the project if a student's faculty mentor and committee members lack previous experience supervising a 499 project. The Honors Faculty Liaison is a member of the Honors Faculty Advisory Council.

The liaison will be assigned only if:

A thesis' committee members and faculty mentor do not have any previous honors thesis experience among them or;

The student or faculty mentor specifically requests a liaison. Please email us to request a liaison. The liaison will be assigned via email.

The liaison will:

  • Ensure all formal requirements of the Departmental Honors Program are met, especially that the final copies of the honors paper meet described requirements
  • Review the honors paper for its final submission to Honors
  • Attending the thesis defense at the invite of the student or asking the Honors Director to appoint a substitute
  • Administer a short assessment form to the committee members at the thesis defense, and returning these forms to Honors

The liaison need not be an active participant in the examination unless also appointed as one of the members of the Examining Committee. You may turn in the signed cover page without their signature if you do not have a faculty liaison.

Beginning in the Spring 2020 semester, the application process and forms for completing Departmental Honors have moved online.

The Departmental Honors Application

The Departmental Honors Application must be completed before the end of drop/add in the beginning semester of 499, but you may complete it whenever it goes live. It requires electronic signatures from the student, faculty supervisor, department chair and Honors Director.

The Departmental Honors Update

The Departmental Honors Update form should be completed before Reading Day at the end of the beginning semester of 499. Must be electronically signed by student, faculty supervisor and committee members in addition to the Honors Director.

The Defense Time Info Survey & Medallion Ceremony RSVP

The Defense Time Info Survey & Medallion Ceremony RSVP must be submitted midway through the final semester of your project. Honors will email you with the form link and deadline. This survey includes information about the date and location of your thesis defense and RSVPs for the Medallion Ceremony and other important details for Honors to celebrate our graduates.

The Honors Exit Survey must be submitted online before the end of final exams in the semester you complete your honors project. In the online form, you must upload the following:

  • A complete, final, proofread PDF of your honors project paper.
  • The title page of your project paper, signed by all committee members, your faculty supervisor, the department chair and the Honors Council faculty liaison. The Honors director will sign off after submittal.
  • The 499 final reflective paper, which helps 499 fulfill the Explorations Beyond the Classroom requirement

Honors will email you with the form link and deadline.

The Online Availability Form

The Online Availability Form, signed by yourself and your faculty supervisor, will determine whether your paper is searchable off-campus. The OAF must be submitted online before the end of final exams in the semester you complte your honors project. Honors will email you with the form link and deadline.

You should send a supervisor-approved draft to your faculty committee 2 weeks before your oral defense date. The purpose of the lead time is to allow the faculty members a week to review the paper, give comments back to you and then give you time to make changes before the oral defense. You should return a final, revised draft to the committee at least two days before your oral defense.

You may use whatever publication style is appropriate for the discipline (APA, MLA, etc.). Make sure to proofread. Your committee will help you ensure you’ve followed all style guidelines.

An Honors Council faculty liaison, if you have one, should review the supervisor-approved draft for general style format before you print a copy of the title page for signatures. Be sure to invite the liaison to the defense. (Most students will not have a liaison.)

It is the charge of the faculty committee to provide feedback on the written paper and a challenging oral exam for you. While there is not one set oral defense format, most defenses use a format similar to that of a master’s thesis defense.

Formatting Guidelines

The best way to determine the formatting and style of your paper is to search through and view other honors project papers in your academic discipline. You can view the online archive of honors papers.

  • The paper must be typewritten, double-spaced, on standard 8 ½ x 11-inch paper
  • All margins should be one inch
  • The font must be 10 or 12 pitch
  • The left margin should be 1 and ½ inches to allow for binding if a student intends to print and bind a copy for personal use (Honors no longer accepts physical copies of theses)
  • The parts of the paper should be arranged in the following way:
    • The title page of the paper, prepared according to the form of the sample below
    • The table of contents, suggested, but not required
    • An abstract (not more than 150 words) is required
    • Any prefatory remarks, including acknowledgments
    • The text, numbered consecutively in the upper right-hand corner, at top right-hand margin
    • “Critical Reflection” section
    • The form of the paper with regard to reference notes, bibliography, quotations, pagination, etc., should be in accordance with the style that is generally accepted in the particular discipline for a final published work
    • Figures and tables are typically included “within” the body of the paper, rather than attached to the end of the paper.
    • No more than one Table or Figure per page—each should appear on the page after it is referred to in the text for the first time.
    • It is easiest to keep Figures and Tables in files separate from the paper until the FINAL draft. Then incorporate them into the paper.
    • There is no running head on any of the parts of the paper.
    • There is no page number on the title page.
  • One PDF file of the entire paper is to be submitted via the Honors Exit Survey
  • One PDF file of the entire paper is to be submitted via the Online Availability Form

Paper Formatting Suggestions

While the content and style of the honors project vary across disciplines, there are common features.

  • Abstract/Summary: A summary paragraph or abstract presented at the beginning of the honors paper is required.
  • Introduction: The honors project typically involves extensive background research and reading. This should be reflected in an introduction, background, or literature review section. The purpose, hypothesis or goal of the project should be clearly stated.
  • Methods/Procedures: The student should describe how the project was conducted, as in a methods and materials section.
  • Results/Findings/Product: The “meat” of the project—whether that includes statistical analysis of empirical data, the text of the musical score, a critical review of particular works of literature, a collection of short stories, or a film.
  • Discussion/Conclusions: Discussion and analysis of the findings of the project with a section considering whether the goal(s) of the project were met.
  • Critical Reflection: All students must include a critical reflection.

A grade of IP (in progress) will appear on your transcript during the first semester. This IP grade does not negatively impact your GPA or Dean’s List recognition.

The faculty advisor assigns one grade for all 6 hours of 499 work through a email submitted to the Honors College director. 499 grades may not be submitted over SeaNet.

No grade is recorded prior to that time. It is strongly suggested that the supervisor give evaluative feedback after the initial semester(s). This will help ensure the project progresses as planned. In fact, this is one function of the Departmental Honors Update form.

  • The Registrar records six semester hours of 499 honors work in the area of concentration with that grade If your final 499 grade is B (3.0) or better
  • The work will not count as honors if the grade is below a B
  • You will receive a maximum of three hours of Directed Individual Study (491) credit if you receive a B- or lower and will not graduate with honors
  • The credit hours you receive for departmental honors count toward your GPA/quality point average, and they count toward the 120 hours required for graduation

In some cases, especially those involving an interdisciplinary interest, a student wishes to conduct honors level research or creative scholarly work under the supervision of a faculty member who is not a member of the department* that offers the student's declared major.

This is now possible with HON 499, Interdisciplinary Honors Project.


A student may petition to register for HON 499 Interdisciplinary Honors Project with the support of the faculty member wishing to supervise the research. The student must explain in a separate paragraph how the proposed project is interdisciplinary in addition to describing the project. This is done in the the "Description" field of the Departmental Honors Application.

This must then be approved by representatives from the Honors College.

The Instructor of Record

The instructor of record of HON 499 will be the faculty member directly supervising the student's research.

The instructor and student would also organize a faculty committee consisting of a minimum of three members, just as all departmental honors projects require:

  • The faculty supervisor
  • An additional faculty member from the department of the faculty supervisor
  • A third faculty member from any department, though it is expected that this would often be a faculty member from the student's major

As with all 499 projects, the faculty supervisor and the members of the committee must be UNCW faculty at the rank of assistant, associate or full professor. Some exceptions will be made if approved by the Director of the Honors College.

Who Reviews the Application?

The Departmental Honors Application will be reviewed by the head of the faculty supervisor's department and the Honors College Director, and if approved, the student will be registered for HON 499.

Additional Information:

  • Six hours over at least 2 semesters will be required, identical to typical 499 projects.
  • The notation on the transcript showing registration for hours will be HON 499: Interdisciplinary Honors Project.
  • The notation for distinction (i.e., on the diploma) will be "with interdisciplinary honors."

It should be noted that many honors projects are interdisciplinary in nature. However, the student will apply for honor in the major versus HON 499 if the student's faculty supervisor is a member of the department that offers the student's major.

The student and advisor need to talk about how to proceed if the honors project involves research with human subjects, meaning you are collecting information from people, such as doing interviews or surveys. Some research involving human subjects must be reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Remember, the honors project paper is a publication. Hopefully the results will be presented at a discipline or undergraduate research conference. It may requires IRB review if the undergraduate research project meets the IRB definition of research.

Also, some surveys and interview subjects do not meet the IRB definition for human subjects. The individuals will be considered human subjects if they are asked to share information about themselves such as their beliefs, thoughts or experiences.

Some research activities gather information from experts on certain organizational practices or other topics. When the questions do not seek information about the person, the participant is considered a key informant rather than a human subject.

The student and advisor should refer to the decision charts posted on the IRB website if they are uncertain how to proceed. The IRB must approve the project before you begin contacting subjects if IRB review is required.

The student will have to identify a UNCW faculty or staff member who is willing to serve as the faculty advisor of the project to get started. Please refer to the Research Integrity Office’s IRB website for a link to the online application system, IRBIS and information about online training courses needed. Students or advisors may send questions about the IRB process to

The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee or IACUC must approve the project before any animals can be studied. The IACUC meets only four times during the academic year and submission deadlines apply. Therefore, projects should be planned well in advance and students must identify a UNCW faculty or staff member who is familiar with the species and has experience with any collection methods to submit the application to the IACUC on behalf of the student.

The IACUC must approve the project before you begin collecting animals. Please refer to the Research Integrity Office’s IACUC website for the appropriate forms and information about online training courses needed. Students or advisors may send questions about the IACUC process to

Research Integrity Office’s

It's possible--even probable--that you'll have the opportunity to present your honors project at an academic conference. Typically, this takes the form of a research poster displayed in a poster session. Even if you don't present off-campus, you must create a research poster presenting your project.

Departmental Honors participants are great candidates to participate the CSURF Showcase of Student Research and Creativity in the semester of their project's completion. We also display posters of all student projects at the Medallion Ceremony, the Honors version of commencement recognizing all University Honors and Departmental Honors graduates.

Poster printing is handled by CSURF, the Center for the Support of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships.

Some resources:

When should I make my poster?

CSURF needs some lead time to print your poster. Please have the file ready and sent to one week in advance of the event you need it for (the Showcase or the Medallion Ceremony).

For any questions, please contact

Thesis workshops are short instructional sessions taught by seasoned faculty meant to help you in certain aspects of the honors thesis.

upcoming thesis workshops

My GPA Isn’t Where It Needs to Be?

To graduate with honors, a student must successfully complete the Departmental Honors Program and have at least a 3.2 quality point average over all college work at the time of graduation.

A student who does not retain an overall average of at least 3.2, however, will still receive credit for the honors project, but will not graduate with honors.


  • 3.5 required for NSG and FST majors
  • 3.75 required for some CRW majors
  • 3.5 required for University Honors distinction.

I Don’t Complete the Project on Time?

If the student will be unable to complete the project as indicated on the Departmental Honors Application, the faculty supervisor should inform the director of the Honors College as soon as possible and assign a grade of Incomplete. Please inform the Registrar and the director of the Honors College as soon as actual completion date is known.

In most cases, an incomplete will be assigned to the existing credit hours until the student defends their thesis. At that point, a new grade will replace the incomplete. The incomplete will not impact a student's GPA while it is on the transcript. However, an incomplete will automatically roll over to an I/F (Incomplete/Fail) after 1 full semester passes from the date of grading. 

For example, the grade will convert to an I/F automatically if you do not complete and replace the grade by the end of the grading period.

The I/F does impact a student's GPA and is much more difficult to retroactively change than a simple Incomplete. Therefore, it's important not only to finish the project within 1 semester of the incomplete being assigned, but also to make sure a new letter grade is assigned in Seanet.

In special cases, a student may have additional 499 credit hours added to the following semester for up to a total of 9 credit hours in the 499 course. This must be discussed and approved case-by-case with the Honors College Director.

I Withdraw From Departmental Honors?

The faculty supervisor may assign the student a letter grade and credit for an appropriate number of hours of 491 Directed Individual Study if a student is doing satisfactory work but has to withdraw from 499. The faculty supervisor will state in writing the reason for the change and notify the director of the Honors College.

There is a form to complete to Request Withdrawal from 499 and to assign any 491 credit—this can be obtained from the Honors Director or at at this link. Please notify the Honors Director as soon as possible as withdrawal may affect financial aid, tuition, etc.

I’m a Double Major?

A student earns departmental honors in their major area—e.g., the student graduates with departmental honors in Psychology. If a student is double majoring, honors can be earned in either or both majors. To earn honors in both majors, the student must complete two separate honors projects.

I Need to Change My Faculty Supervisor?

If the faculty supervisor changes after the student is already registered for 499, the chair of the department should notify the director of the Honors College in writing. The faculty supervisor should also notify the Honors office about any changes in committee membership.

All Honors Projects meet the Exploration Beyond the Classroom requirement for University Studies. There is a required Critical Reflection for this component of University Studies. Critical reflections can be a section at the end of the student's departmental honors project paper or uploaded via the Honors Exit Survey.

View the critical reflection prompts and details